Updated: November 24, 2020 10:36 PM
Created: November 24, 2020 09:50 PM
It's hard to hear. But trafficking and sexual exploitation aren't just problems in a big city far away. They happen in the Northland.
Often, the victims are teens and young adults. So Life House has made it one of their missions to provide hope and healing.
Mary Cowen, Life House's Safe Harbor Program Manager, said people tend to be surprised when they hear she works with victims of trafficking and exploitation.
"I think oftentimes people think of something really dramatized like the movie 'Taken.' And usually, that's not what it looks like," she said.
More often, it's a familiar person taking advantage of a vulnerability.
"We know that oftentimes, young people in this community who are struggling with poverty or unstable housing are sometimes put in positions where they are being pressured into trading something sexual for a safe place to stay," Cowen said.
Any time something sexual is traded for something of value, that's exploitation, Cowen said.
Life House receives Safe Harbor funds from the state of Minnesota. They offer housing with 24/7 staff for support and mental health services.
"Most of them, the exploitation or the trauma that they go through starts at a young age. So they lose a lot of that childhood," Safe Harbor Supervisor Ericka Robinson said.
So she and her team also make sure there are fun moments like trips up the Shore to hike or time spent at the YMCA playing basketball.
Both Robinson and Cowen say the best part of their jobs is bearing witness to resilience, strength and growth.
"Knowing that we have young people coming into our programs who have been through excruciating trauma who can come in and look every new day in the face and keep moving forward ... is just amazing to be able to see," Robinson said.
Cowen loves celebrating milestones like a first job or a CNA certificate with them.
"When you give space to young people to heal and recover and to start to take ownership of their own lives, amazing and beautiful things happen," Cowen said.
Sol House, a place for survivors of sexual exploitation, just marked five years in Duluth. Life House also recently opened Northern Lights, a transitional housing program.
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